Essex Spartans Academy Head Coach Steve Watson believes his youngsters are worthy of the Great Britain squad following the most successful season for youth and junior players in the club’s history.
Watson was able to celebrate after his staff of largely rookie coaches completed a 6-game Under-19 season for the first time, and saw success after accolade for his Under-17s, including an historic win over the London Blitz and being ranked #1 seed from their conference in the BritBowl playoffs.
“I have been absolutely, totally and completely blown away by their progress,” he explained.
“We started off the season assuming we’d have two or three really good players and a supporting team of great guys putting in a lot of effort. By the end, I saw that we have a squad of 20+ absolutely superb players and I want to know when the Great Britain trials are, because I have players I want to send.
“These young men are 100% good enough to represent their country.”
Head Coach Watson took over the youth and juniors programmes at the end of the 2014 season, following the unexpected departure of former Head Coach Steve Mitchell.
Rebranding as the ‘Essex Spartans Academy’ for boys and girls aged 14 – 18, Coach Watson’s early expectations were demolished halfway through the season and replaced with a much more appealing reality.
“Our only aim for this year at U19 was to do what couldn’t be done in 2014 – make it through the season.
“We opened 2015 with three losses after a bit of a rabbit-in-headlights start, and after losing some players for various reasons, we had to decide if we were going to be in a realistic position to continue. We asked the players how they felt, and not one of them said they were done with the season. When they played next at the Berkshire Renegades, they absolutely took them apart.
“We didn’t just win. We won big.”
Achieving the goal of a completed U19 season with a 2-4 record and three players graduating to the senior team, Watson proudly labels himself as ‘very, very fortunate.’
But his fortunes were not at an end there, after the record-breaking season enjoyed by Coach Watson’s Under-17s side.
“At the League meeting last year, we had a lot of coaches say to us that the U17 South East conference is perhaps the toughest in the country to compete in,” he said.
“We finished fourth in 2014 behind the Exiles, Warriors and Blitz. They were a class above and when we played them, you could see the difference. We lost heavily.”
“Before we knew it, it was the end of 2015 and we had beaten almost every team we’d played. Second in the Division, no.1 seed from the South East conference going into the playoffs. Those boys have done themselves proud, they did me proud; they made people really notice them. They play like a team way beyond their age and years of experience.
“It was a fantastic season and one that will stay with me for a very, very long time.”
But as always, there’s always more to a success story than players and coaches – something Coach Watson is eager to make clear to his entire Academy.
“The most important thing for me is to recognise the efforts that go on behind the scenes,” Watson said.
“Our thanks are due in masses to the back room staff – the entire committee, to Michelle [Welfare Officer for the Academy] and especially to the parents and families of our players.
“For the Under-17s in particular, parental consent and commitment is paramount to making this work and they have been superb. I am extremely proud to say that when we travelled to Cornwall for the playoffs, we had more side-line support with us than the Cornish Sharks did.”
“No matter how big or small the contribution, without those people we wouldn’t have a team, and I cannot thank them enough.”
With the season now at an end for the Spartans Academy and the Essex Spartans Senior team, the focus will return to recruitment and training to keep moving forward.
“We’re all really excited by what we’ve achieved this season, and we know we can build on that and be even better next year. We’ve had great records, we sent a team to the playoffs, we had three players graduate to the senior team and already contribute to a senior fixture.
“How do we follow all that next season? Now that is the challenge.”